Arnolfo di Cambio designed the new cathedral and supervised its construction until his death in 1302. At that point enthusiasm for the project ended. In 1330, however, someone discovered on site the bones of St. Zenobius himself—the patron saint of
In 1334 these same leaders appointed the deeply respected Giotto to supervise construction. He focused on designing the free-standing bell tower. Workers finished only its lowest level before his death in 1337.
In 1348 plague killed at least half of the city’s 90,000 inhabitants and stopped all work.
Once that disaster had passed, life returned to the city and work resumed on the cathedral. Workers finished the bell tower in 1359. With the completion of the exterior walls of the new cathedral in 1375, the old church building of St. Reparata—still standing within them—was torn down. By 1380 the nave, or rectangular front half, was roofed. By 1418, only construction of the central dome remained unfinished.
Only! The dome would have to span a hole 144 feet (44 m) wide. No one had built a dome that wide since the completion of the Pantheon in
Leaders of the wool guild promised a small fortune to the man who could. They chose Filippo Brunelleschi to get it done and Lorenzo Ghiberti, their favorite artist, to co-lead the project. Filippo didn’t want to share leadership of the project with Lorenzo so he left for
To respond creatively to his unprecedented challenge, Filippo developed new methods of construction as well as new machines needed to move heavy loads of stone and brick from the ground to the men working high above it. Over 4,000,000 bricks later, workers completed his dome in 1434. The result was an engineering marvel, an aesthetic masterpiece, and the beginning of a bold new Renaissance style of architecture.
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